After decades of working with grieving children and families, it is evident that most people are uneducated, feel uncomfortable or simply do not know what to say to someone who has experienced a recent loss. Because we think we don't have the right words to express our condolences to a person or family who is grieving, we often say old, worn out phrases or cliches that may sound helpful but turn out to do more emotional damage than good.
The following are tips of "Do's" and "Don'ts" when providing support to a friend or loved one who is grieving:
• Say, "I am sad for your loss."
• Say, "I am here and I want to listen."
• Say, " I am sorry for your loss."
• Say, "Please tell me what you are feeling."
• Know that sometimes it's okay to say nothing. Instead, focus on just being present with the person...listening with your ears, eyes and heart.
• Ask the person permission to give them a hug....a hug can say "I care."
• Connect with the grieving person by sharing a special memory or story you have of the person who has died.
• Don't say, "I understand how you feel." Actually, you don't! Everyone's grief experience is unique. Acknowledge the griever's feelings and listen to his/her story.
• Don't say, "Everything happens for a reason." For the griever, there is no good reason that justifies his/her pain.
• Don't say, "Your loved one is in a better place. They don't have to suffer anymore." The griever knows their loved one isn't suffering anymore. However, the griever is suffering and he/she would give anything to have their loved one here with them, not anywhere else, better place or not.
• Don't say, "You're only given as much as you can handle." The griever would tell you that you have no idea how much they have already handled and how it feels like they can't go on another step.
• Don't say, "It's been a year now ... aren't you over it yet?" Grief is something you never "get over." It is something you work through until you hopefully reach a place of healing. The average grief recovery time is two years. However, every person's grief journey is individualized. There is no magic ending to grief.
• Don't say, "You are young. You can always have another child." Although this may be a true statement, it is not a helpful one to a grieving parent. After the devastating loss of a child, parents can't think about the next minute, let alone the far away future. Right now, they are in agony because their child has died. Another child will never replace the loss of this child.
Submitted by marriage and family
therapist/grief counselor Jodi Wass, Executive Director Emilio Parga of The Solace Tree, a grieving center for families, teens and children.
Douglas High teens from the Grief and Loss support group
The Dougy Center
Darcie D. Sims, Grief, Inc.